At a recent conference, I picked up from a vendor a t-shirt with the words “Happy Lawyer” screen-printed on the front. That was it – it was in all caps, stretched the width of the shirt and in bright white letters, on a solid black shirt. I took one and thought, “well, that’s funny.”
com dkoll bakkenorman Deanne M. Koll, William Mitchell 2006, is an attorney and shareholder with Bakke Norman S.C., with offices in Menomonie and New Richmond, Wis.
Later that evening, I was still thinking about that black t-shirt. Why was it so funny and why was I so drawn to it? Was it because lawyers are categorically unhappy? Was it because no lawyer would ever wear that because – if we’re anything – we’re persistently pessimistic? Or, was it funny because even if we are happy, we can’t openly say so because we feel compelled to play into the scenario of overworked, tireless advocates?
As I laid in bed awake from 2 a.m. to 3 a.m. – as I often do – thinking about life, I began to wonder if lawyers are more a product of our environments than trailblazers of our own futures. It seems as though lawyers are bombarded with articles about how lawyers are disproportionately affected by depression. We drink too much. We suffer from anxiety. We abuse drugs. We can’t find work-life balance. A recent headline I read said, “Substantial and widespread levels of problem drinking and other behavioral health problems in the U.S. legal profession.” Well, that makes you feel great, right?
As early as law school, we begin telling our future colleagues that they won’t be happy. You’ll suffer with mental illness! You’ll feel isolated in your profession! You’ll develop a drinking or drug problem! When that’s the only thing that law students and lawyers hear about our profession, do we internalize it and then just become sheep following blindly into this abyss? Are we cultivated into believing this is our only path – because we chose this terrible, awful profession? There’s an old saying: tell me what you read, and I’ll tell you who you are. Is this chronicle of depressed, drunk, mentally unstable lawyers too engrained in the literary program for lawyers?
Let’s make it okay to be
a happy lawyer. Let’s
celebrate our profession.
Now, I’m not a 100-percent-happy lawyer. If you surveyed my friends, family, and colleagues, I suspect you’d get a mixed bag of responses, including whether I drink too much, overextend myself, am too pessimistic, have a heart of stone (my sister’s favorite slight), or otherwise am a little off kilter.
But, even if those would be the survey results, I feel pretty happy. And that matters, right? A friend of mine once said that you should be more happy than unhappy in your career, and if you are, that’s success. I think this equates to the more-probable-than-not burden of proof. Where do you fall on that scale?
If lawyers were able to stand up and scream “I’m pretty okay with my life,” would anyone write an article about it? Would the Hazelden Foundation team up with the American Bar Association to research the percentage of lawyers who are genuinely satisfied in their careers? I doubt it.
Maybe that’s the problem. We need to change the narrative. Let’s make it okay to be a happy lawyer. Let’s celebrate our profession. Believe me, I like belly-aching about work as much as the next person, but let’s also give each other the ability to vocalize the great things about joining this profession. We owe it to each other – and the future lawyers.
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What was your deer-hunting experience this year?
I shot a nice buck. But, that wasn’t the best part of the hunt. I enjoyed opening weekend with my dad at the deer camp where I’ve been hunting since I was 12. That’s almost 25 years, if you’re counting. Other than me, there’s no one at my camp under the age of 60, and (you guessed it) I’m the only woman. Also, there’s no running water at camp, which means we have to use an outhouse – affectionately called the Thunder Hut.
The guys at deer camp are like fathers to me. We laugh, we drink beer, we tell lies, and we shamelessly make fun of each other. That’s the most important thing about deer camp – the camaraderie. Not the buck, but the people with whom I get to share camp. Those memories will last a lifetime and are much more important than a shoulder mount of my buck.
com dkoll bakkenorman Deanne M. Koll, Bakke Norman S.C., Menomonie and New Richmond.
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